Winston’s partner problem

Winston Peters was found by a High Court judge to have contributed to an unclearly filled out form and an incorrect amount of Super being paid to him for seven years.

The judge found it was a mistake and not deliberate deception on Winston’s part (I think that’s a fair assessment on the evidence available), but I think it was quite careless, on three counts.

The incorrectly completed form

The question is: Do you have a partner?

To the left of the question is this text:

Partner

Q26 note: A partner is your spouse (husband or wife), your civil union partner, or a person of the same or opposite sex with whom you have a de facto relationship.

We need partner information even if your partner is not being included because it affects your rate of pay.

Whether or not Peters read the clarifying note,  I think that most people would regard a person they were currently living with in a de facto relationship as their partner, and not someone who they had lived with at some time in the past, whether still legally married to them or not.

The judge found:

At the time, Mr Peters was living separate and apart from his former wife (they were not divorced). His answer to the subsidiary question was therefore literally correct. He was living apart/separated from his wife. But he had a partner, Ms Trotman. The form, as completed, was actually incomplete as the primary No/Yes response was not completed. The form should not have been processed as it stood. Mr Peters should have completed the primary question, and Ms S should have asked him to complete the answer to the primary question, rather than leaving it incomplete.

I won’t argue with “literally correct” from a legal point of view, but from a social point of view it seems quite wrong.

I can’t imagine Peters introducing Jan Trotman in a social setting as “this is who I’m shacked up with, but the person I left x years ago and haven’t gotten around to divorcing yet is literally my partner’.

According to this article “Trotman has always been protective of her privacy. When the couple bought their three-level five-bedroom St Marys Bay villa in 2008” – so they had been partners at least two years before the Super application.

Peters made another mistake on the form in two later questions:

33. Do you want to include your partner in your New Zealand Superannuation?

34. Is your partner receiving a current benefit?

The judgement says:

Mr Peters had ticked “No” in response to both questions but then the tick has been crossed out and “Yes” has been ticked.

I accept the evidence of Ms S that Mr Peters must have crossed them out. I do not place any weight on the fact they were not initialled as the other alterations to the form were initialled. Mr Peters’ attempted reliance during cross-examination on the fact he had not initialled the alterations to suggest the form could have been filled in by Ms S, not him, was a clear case of post fact reasoning and contrary to his earlier evidence-in-chief when he said he had completed the questions in issue.

Peters had tried to blame the WINZ staff member for this. It was inconsequential but another mistake.

In summary, an error was made in the completion of the application form. The error arose because Mr Peters did not fully complete question 26 and Ms S did not require Mr Peters to complete the answer to the primary question in question 26. Mr Peters’ apparent failure to read the explanatory note to question 26 which set out the definition of partner contributed to the error. The combination of errors led to Mr Peters receiving NZS at a higher rate than he was otherwise entitled to.

You only get to apply for Super once in your lifetime so I think most people would take care to get things right. Peters got more than one thing wrong. It just seems careless.

Not noticing he was being paid more than he was entitled for seven years 

I think that most people applying to get a significant amount of money regularly for the rest of their lives will work out what they expect to receive. And if they end up getting something different to that amount, they would find out why.

Peters may have not checked it out and may not have cared how much he got, but I think that seems quite unusual.

The current difference (it would have been less but proportional in 2010) per fortnight after tax (what you see credited to your account) is $782.44 (live with someone 18 or older) and $652.04 (a couple when only one of you meets the criteria for NZ Super and you don’t include your partner in your payments). This presumes Peters wasn’t being paid at the higher rate which is currently $847.66 (live alone or with dependent child).

I think most people would notice that sort of difference in amount.

Disregarding or not understanding a letter after four years asking him to confirm his status

On 18 March 2014, the MSD sent a standard letter to Mr Peters which included a request that asked him to check the
following details:

Relationship Status:     You are single.
Your living situation:    You are not living alone.

Mr Peters did not respond to the letter. He has no recollection of it but accepts he would have received it. He says he understood the letter was asking if there was any change in his circumstances.

This sounds contradictory.   I don’t know how Peters can have no no recollection of the letter, but can remember what he understood about the letter (past tense).

If Mr Peters had paid more attention to the letter, he would have realised there was an issue with the MSD’s records regarding his initial application.

The judge appears to assume Peters did see the letter but didn’t pay enough attention to it. If Peters did pay any attention it should have been obvious that “You are single.” was incorrect. There’s no way of knowing what Peters actually did or thought pr paid attention to, and it seems he can’t be relied on to be accurate (it was five years before the trial so most memories would struggle with one letter).

Mistakes were made by a number of people, but multiple mistakes were made by Peters filling the form out in 2010, and again with the letter in 2014 (at least a mistake of ignoring it or not paying attention to it).

Not noticing the incorrect amount for seven years may have just been someone with more money than they need already getting a bit more off the taxpayer and not caring how much it actually was.

I’m sure I would be quite unpopular with someone if I referred to someone I had separated from some years ago as my partner.

Russell McVeagh partner resigns

Some change at Russell McVeagh after an investigation confirmed bad behaviour of one of their partners.

RNZ:  Russell McVeagh partner quits after complaints upheld (audio)

The law firm Russell McVeagh has lost one of its partners, after an independent investigation upheld complaints about the man’s drunken behaviour at a client function. Yesterday the law firm’s board chair Malcolm Crotty confirmed a partner – who isn’t named – had resigned. The firm, which provides services to the government, has been in damage control because of serious allegations of sexual misconduct by senior lawyers in 2015 and 2016.

Attitudes and actions are finally changing. Good.

MP mother wants more free travel for partners

MP Kiri Allen had a baby at about the same time she got into parliament via Labour’s list. She is trying to get more free travel for MPs with young children so they can have more time with their family together.

Every parent who works has to compromise on family time, it just goes with the job.

MPs already have fairly generous pay and travel allowances.

Stuff:  Mum MP calls for travel cap change to help politicians with babies

One of Parliament’s new parents, Kiri Allen, has argued for a cap on taxpayer-funded travel for MPs’ partners to be lifted for those with young babies.

While MPs’ partners used to be allowed unlimited travel to be with the MP, the so-called “perk” was cut back in 2014 after excessive use by some.

…the partners of ordinary MPs get 20 trips a year maximum while ministers’ partners get 30 trips a year. The caps are set by the Remuneration Authority and can only be used to accompany MPs on work-related travel.

Twenty free trips a year doesn’t sound too bad to me.

Allen said the cap was difficult when her baby was less than six months old as it restricted her partner and baby to visiting Wellington only once every six weeks at a time the family wanted to spend as much time together as possible.

Speaking to the Herald afterwards, she said she knew calls to widen the entitlements could be “politically unpalatable”.

“But that would be an amendment I would advocate for if we were striving to make Parliament more family-friendly. I would advocate for an amendment for people for those first six months of a baby’s life.”

She said the entitlement should also be extended to caregivers rather than just partners.

So parents with babies can have anyone they like travelling with them to help them?

Parliament sits for 30 weeks per year between Tuesday and Thursday, and MPs living out of Wellington get to fly home at the end of short weeks in Parliament so it is hardly a long amount of time apart from both parents.

And being a list MP Allen doesn’t have the weekend commitments that electorate MPs have. It really isn’t a very onerous job for a fback bench list MP.

Allen knew what sort of job she was putting herself forward for, and will have known she was pregnant when campaigning to become an MP. But she wants more perks laid on.

I think she is trying to push her working conditions too far.